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What true education reforms should look like

"Examination is not a true test of knowledge"... One of the placards carried by teachers during recent protest in Kaduna


What true education reforms should look like

By Abigail Anaba

For about a week now the story of how the Kaduna State Government is going about reforms in the education sector has taken centre stage. Two issues have been thrown up by the action of the State Government. The first is the process of reforms and the other is the content of the reforms.

The process of this particular reform has been the source of the greatest controversy. The teachers are accusing the State of shifting the goal post from 60% to 75% and from retraining to dismissal. The issue of process throws up legalities that will be better handled by looking at Civil Service regulations. But I would point out here that this is more of a moral and ethical issue. It cannot be morally right to move the goal post after the shot has been taken. We all believe in the ethos: Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’.

However in this war between morality and legality, the grass that suffers is the pupils – the innocents who first, are victims of a system that employs individuals that are unqualified to provide them with an education that leaves them totally unprepared for the world they must survive in, and second, are victims of the politicisation of a process of reforms which should be working in their favour but has been turned into a public drama and show of shame.

There has never been an argument as to whether the Nigerian education system indeed needs reforms.  In the case of the KDSG debacle, everyone is agreed that change must come to the system. Daggers are only drawn over the finer points of what really constitutes reforms. Is the disengagement of over 21,000 teachers not more of a populist political move than an actual attempt at bettering the system?

This piece, with edits, is a reproduction of a 2015 piece, which discusses this writer’s idea of what the educational reforms in Nigeria should involve.

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An Historical Perspective

There are many problems with education in Nigeria. Adeyinka A.A. (1992) listed 12 of these problems ranging from infrastructural, man power and curricular problems.  One of the points Professor Adeyinka made is the prevalence of multiple systems of education. He wrote, “As of today [1992] there are thirty-one systems of education in the country: the national system, or Federal (Abuja) system and the thirty one state systems. Each education system is unique, backed up by the Federal or State Education Laws”. Labo-Popoola, Bello and Atanda (2009) traced the existence of the multiple education systems back to the British administration and the creation of regions in 1954. “The colonial administration, before independence, administered education through the use of education ordinances and education laws.” These ordinances meant that each of the six regions had its unique educational systems backed by the “Educational ordinances and Regional Laws of 1954”.

This multiplicity skewed educational development. There was no central development from the onset. The British placed the three regions at the starting line and blew the whistle. The West, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo were off to a great start with the UPE in 1955. The large success of the programme gave the South West a head start in education. Seeing this success, a few years later in 1957, the Eastern region tried to copy the UPE but the idea died a premature death due to a number of factors, the biggest of which was a lack of proper financial commitment to the scheme. Northern Nigeria seemed to just drop out of the race as they did not get involved in introducing Western education to their region at all. (Labo-Popoola, Bello and Atanda (2009).

This historical fact points to why the education system in the various regions are as they are today. A watcher would easily see that things have not really changed.

Add to this political restructuring in form of state creation in Nigeria and the gradual shift of power and resource control from the regions to the central government. This meant that there was less money available to the states and more to the central government.

Political restructuring also meant that funding of what has come to be referred to as Basic Education (the first 9 years of a child’s education) was put in the concurrent list (items that will be shared among Federal, State and Local Government).

According to Labo-Popoola, Bello and Atanda (2009), one of the reasons Chief Awolowo’s reforms worked was that it was well funded: “The government of the Western Region had to increase the budget from £2.2 million in 1954 to £5.4 million in 1955 (Fafunwa, 1974; Oni, 2006). Actually, 90% of the budget on education was spent on primary education alone. By 1957/58 the recurrent expenditure on education from the funds of the region was £7,884, 110, which covered personal emoluments, other charges, special expenditure and grants-in-aids (Taiwo, 1980)”.

As noted above, 90% of the education budget was spent on primary education, leaving just 10% for secondary and tertiary education. The reason for this is not farfetched. Once you get the foundation right, the building will stand.  When the political restructuring happened however, the states were simultaneously  deprived of the funds to run basic education. Are we therefore surprised that basic education is in a deplorable state in most states today?

Two factors that will therefore lead to a turnaround in basic education is funding and manpower development. With needs growing and funds depleting it would remain a pipe dream to expect things to go back to 1955 South Western Nigeria.

Rethinking Basic Education In Nigeria

However, it is possible to legislate standards that will replace the multiple system of education in Nigeria. It may seem logical to have states decide what works and what does not work for them. This writer is however of the opinion that given the fact that some parts of Nigeria got a head start in education there is a need to ‘help’ other regions catch up. But, these regions may not be able to catch up working on their own.

Presently, one of the ways these regions are being helped to catch up is with the introduction of common entrance cut off marks for Federal Unity Schools. It is no news that the cut off mark in some Northern states has been between 0 and 10 marks – year in year out.  One of the things wrong with using cut off marks to help the students in the North catch up with their southern counterparts is that they mostly continue to play catch up. At the state level, there is mass promotion of students and at the tertiary level, they also enjoy a lower cut off mark. We only need to look at the level of graduates coming out of these schools to determine whether this intervention is working out for the benefit of the students.

READ: Shocking: Cut-off point into Federal Unity Colleges for Yobe is 2, Taraba, 3, Anambra, 139 (See full list)

Yet, there is a need to get all states on the same page as far as standards is concerned.

First, we need to accept that there is something flawed about waiting for common entrance exams into unity schools to offer an incentive for further education. By the time pupils sit entrance examination to unity schools they have already completed six years of primary education, past the age when intervention into their reading, writing and speaking skills would have made a world of difference. Research has it that intervention is best introduced before the age of 9, so waiting till the children are 12 means that the intervention is late by at least 3 years.  Intervention should clearly come earlier when the children are still attending the state run primary schools.

Moreover, there are just about 104 unity schools in Nigeria, clearly inadequate to serve the teeming population of secondary school age children. Another clear indicator that the ‘help’ needed ought to be provided at the state level.

Also the use of a lower cut off mark for children in the North is an admission to the fact that these children are in some way born dumb. There is no research to support the fact that children from Northern Nigeria are unable to learn. They are just as smart as counterparts in the south and any presentation otherwise is a disservice to them.

This brings us back to the issue of funding. With the dwindling fortunes from the oil sector many states are unable to meet up with expenditure. The allocation they get from the Federal Government is barely enough to pay salaries of civil servants to the point that a good number of states owe civil servant salaries for months. Therefore, there is a need for alternate funding for education projects in states. Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) makes intervention funds available, but this is basically for capital projects. Also the insistence on a provision of counterpart funding and the fact that the commission determines what the money should be used for makes some states unwilling to access it.

The fact remains however that the biggest problem with basic education has more to do with recurrent than capital expenditure. It is more a problem of man power and curriculum development than the infrastructure on ground. As this writer has severally posited, children can learn under mango trees and grow to become the best if they are taught by the best teachers using working methodologies.  The writer is therefore using this medium to talk about how the issues of training and manpower development can be tackled while still maintaining standards and ‘helping’ states that have fallen far behind in educational development.

Man Power Development

There can be no education without teachers. So any educational intervention that does not take into cognizance the upgrade of teachers is doomed to fail. The situation with teachers right now is bleak. Consider the number of times teachers have rejected tests. When they do sit tests they perform poorly. For instance, in Kwara state in 2008, 19,125 public school teachers including 2628 university graduates were made to sit competency tests based on Basic 4 Math and English. The result was that only seven “crossed the minimum aptitude and capacity threshold”. Only one of the university graduates passed the test and 10 scored zero. It was also revealed that about 60% could not read information presented nor prepare lesson notes.

Forward to Kaduna in 2013, Daily Trust of Friday, February 15, 2013 reports: “A total of 1,599 teachers selected from across the state were given primary four tests in Mathematics and Basic literacy. Only one of them scored 75 per cent, 250 scored between 50 and 75 per cent and 1,300 scored below 25 per cent”. In Edo, same year, a teacher was exposed on national TV as being unable to read her own certificate. And when Former Governor Fayemi tried to subject Ekiti teachers to a test, they opposed it vehemently and resorted to calling for a strike. This writer was privileged to be part of a training organized for teachers in Abuja and some of the teachers present could not read three and four letter words from ‘Queen Primer’.

In 2017, things in Kaduna have still not changed. As shown in the earlier paragraphs, teachers have again sat competency tests and over 21,000 of the teachers scored below 75%.

All of this points to one fact, teachers in public schools are grossly unqualified. If a teacher cannot pass math and English meant for grade 4 pupils, what will they teach? Therefore there is a need to over haul the teaching staff in public schools. How though is this to be done? Remember basic education is run by the state government so any initiative to improve basic education should start at that level.

As shown by the examples above however, this has led to our having 36 plus 1 different standards of education in Nigeria. It probably would not have mattered if the standards are yielding desired results in pupils coming out with sound basic education. As shown, the biggest problem with the standards is the implementers. No manner of revamping of the curriculum will work when the man power to execute the revamping is not in place.  This writer will therefore produce a system of revamping that will involve a few legislative adjustments which could lead to great improvements in the standards of basic education.

For starters, it may be impossible to make any changes that will lead to the outright sacking of the teachers. We have the happenings in Ekiti as a reminder that teachers will go against any plans to weed them out simply by making them sit tests. They will protest and will get unions like the NUT and NLC to support them in grounding the economy.  As shown in the on-going Kaduna situation, they will play up politics, emotions, legality and morality to scuttle whatever reforms are planned. What everyone seems to forget is that teachers bear a legal and moral responsibility to do their jobs and that a teacher who knows that s/he does not have the ability to teach has a responsibility to resign and quit corrupting the system. What justification does a teacher have to pick salaries every month for destroying the chances of the children put under his/her care?

However, many teachers want to improve. They want to do better to help their pupils because however you look at it, the joy of most teachers is to see their students excel. However, there are teachers in the system or are unqualified and who do not even want a change of status quo. The first step is to weed out the bad eggs.

This is where this writer agrees with the actions taken by the KDSG. The least cost effective way to weed out unqualified teachers is to have them sit competency tests. All who fail the tests are then processed out of the system. There should be a lot of transparency and no double standards in this. From the get go, the teachers should know they are about to sit tests, why they are sitting tests, what the cut off mark that signifies passing and failure is and what the consequences are. Let us not forget though that these teachers destroying the system are the same ones that run the unions, so who ever chooses to take the ‘transparency’ path should expect backlash from the unions. In Ekiti, the teachers simply went on strike!

It appears, therefore, that for reforms to actually take root, it requires a level of deceit or highhandedness on the part of government. It requires someone who is willing to sacrifice a re-election, to be called insensitive, unemotional and wicked. Yet, these reforms cannot be done halfway, if one is willing to be called names, then he should also have the ‘perfect’ blueprint for such reforms. It might start with removing unqualified and incompetent teachers but it cannot end there. It should also involve the removal of persons charged with hiring teachers and the PROCESS of such hires. But the removal of workers cannot be done arbitrarily or else the workers are quite likely to institute a class action and may win.

Yet, this writer believes there can be a win-win situation in implementing reforms.

Firing Incompetent Teachers

Some persons have said that since these teachers were government hires then they should not be a whole sale sack of the workers. This writer disagrees. However, the process of letting these workers go could be made more transparent.

First there should be a performance evaluation. This evaluation is simply to know how bad things are. It will have no consequence on anyone.

Next, a memo is sent out stating what behaviours and levels of incompetence which have hitherto been exhibited (and this is where I choose to tie the success and failure of the teachers to the pupils they teach) which will no longer be tolerated.

Next is a recruitment exercise. This of course means that the process of recruitment should already have been internally rejigged. Getting a reputable private firm to recruit the next set of teachers would help create new filters.

Then start the process of disengagement in batches. This writer would suggest that it begins with Primary One teachers who did very badly in the evaluation tests. These will be immediately replaced by the already recruited teachers. This process is followed in a three monthly basis until all the bad eggs are weeded out. This writer suggests three months just for the sake of disrupting the school term. There is actually no bad time to replace a bad teacher.

Conversely, the replacement can come in batches of, the worst 10%, then the next and the next, until all that failed the performance evaluation are removed.  When this system is used, each dismissal should be followed by a new performance evaluation.

After all dismissals are done the next step is to organise training programmes for teachers and follow up with peer reviews. For the sake of this exercise, each school will provide two team leaders – lower primary and upper primary. All the teachers in the school will meet at the local government area or some other designated place and receive training.  The one month training will cover teaching methodologies and use of English. After the training, there will be informal tests. The training the facilitators will note the teachers that performed poorly for tracking purposes.

The teachers go back to school and based on the last performance of the students (average performance) they are given a target score.  The score is calibrated into terms. For instance if the average score of the students in primary 1 was 3/10 the target could be 5/10 at the end of the year. The final year test of the students will be conducted by an independent body. Meanwhile, during the year, the teachers enjoy peer review and their team leaders work with them to help them improve.  To spur the teachers and their teams, their yearly increment will be tied to the performance of the students. If they all meet their goal they get a fixed % increase in salary which they will lose if they don’t. Teachers who for three terms are not able to improve the score of their students and who are shown by peer review to not be contributing to the growth of the school will be retired, redeployed or downgraded as the case may be.

Of course, there are cases especially in rural areas where all of the teachers may not do well, and you may not have qualified teachers willing to move to those areas. Then what? This leads to another aspect of capacity building which this writer believes should involve some legislative amendments.

If you are conversant with the Universal Basic Education Act 2004, then you will be aware that the Federal Government provides matching grants of about N1Billion/year to state governments. According to the act, the UBEC funds can be used for construction of classrooms/furniture; procurement of textbooks, instructional materials and teacher professional development but before the sates can assess these grants they have to provide matching funds.

This writer’s proposition is that insistence on states providing matching funds be scrapped and that funds be invested solely on manpower development. It should be the responsibility of the State and Local government to provide the infrastructure required: school building, furniture and a functional library. If the Local Government can afford it, they can introduce an e-library. However, professional development of teachers should be carried out using funds provided by the Federal Government. A percentage of the UBEC funds should be released to State Governments for manpower development after they have fulfilled certain criteria such as showing the existence of a block of classrooms, a functioning library, laboratory. e.t.c

Supervision and Take Over

While the State Government puts in place its own mechanism for checks, the Federal Government should also be involved in the running of State schools but on a supervisory level. This may also require some legislative input and adjustment.

There should be a provision for total takeover of any schools which fail to meet with minimum requirements.  This will require a removal of the present ‘cut off mark’ standards for entry into Federal Unity Schools into something uniform.  If a state is unable to produce its quota of students into the Unity Schools for three years in a row then it should be taken over by the Federal Government. A takeover of the school means it will be run directly and exclusively by SUBEB and the Local Education Board without any input from the state as far as recruitment of teachers and curriculum use is concerned.  The Federal government will have the powers to fire teachers who are being tracked through the process of their yearly trainings. Such a school will only be returned to the state if they demonstrate they now have the capacity in terms of teaching staff and teaching methodology to run the school.

A takeover of running of schools from the State means that a % of the State’s federal allocation will be deducted at source for the running of primary education. This will also force states to create internal mechanisms that work to maintain standards.

Where are the Teachers?

There is of course the need to mention at this point that one is not avoiding the question of where to get the teachers.  With the standard of education as it is now, even teachers being produced by our education institutes fall short of requirements. This writer proposes that teacher training institutes be suspended for one year. During this period, there will be a revamping of the curriculum and a retraining of the trainers in these institutes.

To start with, the idea of ‘rejects’ studying to be teachers or individual attending the education institutes simply to get direct entry into the university should be discouraged. For this to happen the cut off mark for entry into TTI’s should be upped and the start salary for persons who went through colleges of education should be increased. This writer is of the opinion that the idea once muted that colleges of education be upgraded to degree awarding institutions and the course should be a full four year course. The best students from SSCE can be given the option of teaching for two years immediately after graduation in exchange for skipping one year in the college of education and not sitting any other qualifying exams.

Presently, the Federal Government runs Federal Teacher’s Scheme which is aimed at building capacity and tackling the acute shortage of teachers especially in rural areas.  Every two years, through this scheme 45,000 teachers are placed in primary schools across the country after passing through NCE. You will agree that a student that does very well in his WAEC exams is better than a lot of NCE graduates. Let’s say NCE was scrapped and the best students in WAEC are given three month intensive training and then sent on internship in primary schools. After  2 years they have a choice of either studying part time while they continue teaching or taking a three year sabbatical to return as teachers after they complete their degree course. It is the opinion of this writer that this will go a long way in solving the skills gap we have in basic education. Remember, the problem with basic education has moved from being purely having a large number of teachers to having well qualified teachers equipped to produce better pupils. The added advantage of people who choose to intern as teachers will be that they do not have to go through the NYSC programme as they will be given exemption certificates after they graduate.

Speaking of the National Youth Service scheme, this writer is of the opinion that the practice of sending NYSC graduates without any teacher training to go and teach in schools should be discontinued. A person who has gone through four years of education should be a better impact in the society than being thrown into a school to teach. The one year NYSC should be the time to implement a project that is close to the heart of the graduand or to work as part of a team in achieving set goals.

10 Million Out of School Children

You can have the best schools and teachers but if there are no students then all the efforts are futile. Local Governments are also in the best position to incentivize parents to send their children the school. This writer is no advocate for the School Feeding Programme, but it would be foolish not to acknowledge the impact that such a programme when properly implemented can have on education. The UBE has stated that school lunch is necessary for Basic Education. Needless to say, provision of school lunch will lead to increased enrolment especially in the poorer areas. With available resources, it may not be possible for states to provide free lunch to all pupils. Perhaps part of the UBEC funds should be committed to feeding children in the poorest LG’s. States can also make businesses in their regions commit to providing meals for the students in exchange for tax cuts.


The proposal put forward by this writer is by no means exhaustive but is presented to contribute to the conversation and perhaps start others thinking along fresh lines. The facts remain that if something is not done about the skills gap in basic education today, the nation will continue on a downward spiral until we may need to begin to start importing labour.  You need only be part of an interview panel to see how bad things are with people who hold some form of tertiary education, they can barely string together sentences in proper grammar or speak coherently. Logic is usually thrown out of the window. It is time to beam a searchlight on basic education in Nigeria as this is the feeder system. If we do not get our basic education system right, our tertiary institution will not be able to remedy the situation.

With the Kaduna State Government, the end – cleansing the education system in the state and ridding it of incompetent teachers – is indeed justified. But the means – lack of transparency and not keeping to agreements as to what constitutes failure – appears flawed. Also it is important that the ‘reforms’ do not end simply with removal of teachers, the entire process of recruitment and continued training and re-recruitment needs to be addressed.

One thing is sure, what is happening in Kaduna today will provide a litmus test for future actions and inactions. It is the hope of this writer that this matter goes to court, perhaps this will force everyone to take a second look at legislative laws that has to do with not just the education system but the recruitment and termination of duties of persons working in the civil service.

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